Why I Don’t Play Some Games With the Fans of the Game
Over the years, I’ve come to a strange epiphany on things, when it comes to the individual passions of gamers. If the game in question is the one system or world for which they exist as a gamer, I’m probably not going to want to play in their sessions. On the surface, it would seem like a great idea, being as they know the ins and outs of the dice and the world better than pretty much anyone around, but the reality is that they’ve gone beyond what can be gleaned from the actual text of the rules into a strange and shadowy underworld where only they know The One True Way. Their various years with the source material have given them a very particular view on how things need to be done within the scope of the game, and woe betides any who stray from this.
Naturally, none of this applies to me. If I love a game, I’m obviously the best person to run it.
All joking aside, this particular phenomenon is one that I’ve run into more times than I really want to admit to, and each time it crops up, I quietly sidle away from the conversation and make a dignified retreat. There’s nothing that I can add to the discussion, and the longer I manage to linger on the periphery, the more likely it is that I’m going to just advance an unpopular theory.
I’d edged around the subject with my post on Werewolf, but in its way, I ended up actually first encountering the idea with a group of Axis & Allies players, of all things.
A friend of mine had been talking about how he had a steady group of Axis & Allies players that met on a regular basis to play, managing to keep a monthly game going on since high school. They’d played all sides so many times that they tended to shortcut a lot of the opening moves and knew each others’ strategy well enough to plan out most of the game from the first selection of armies. Since I’d wanted to hang out and casually throw dice on a game that I had only played once or twice, this pretty well killed my interest. I was looking to sharpen up my understanding of the rules, and they were debating higher philosophy.
Now in this instance, it was a case of skill and experience that scared me off, as much as the ingrained ways of playing the game that the group in question had settled into. For RPG’s, similar principles apply, but the practice delves much more into the thematic outlook of the play group.
In the case of my Werewolf game, I ran into conflicts on a couple of occasions, when the players felt that the way the game unfolded was at odds with their perceptions of things. One player, in an earlier game, ran headlong into the general incompetence of the other characters. I’d specifically gone out of my way to allow the players to build their PC’s in whatever ways made sense to them without any experience with the game. I would answer questions, but the larger issues and game essential tweaks were left out. This was to attempt to get an organic character out of the new guys, rather than one that was optimized for the system. I wanted a group of largely unaware Garou that had no idea why they were being initiated into the World of Darkness, rather than one that mysteriously knew all of the skills that were necessary for Being A Werewolf.
This meant that skills like Primal Urge were left at zero, in favor of skills that actually made sense for the mortal life of the character. (For those who are unaware, Primal Urge serves as the skill that allows the Garou to physically shift into, well, werewolves. Without this skill, it’s a lot harder to transform.)
This fit with the scope of the game, where the characters are the scattered foundlings that were largely ignored by the greater Garou society. To the experienced player that knew how to best build a character for the game, this was wholly maddening. He had a narrowly ascribed outlook on what was needed for a workable character, and to watch the new guys flail around without better direction was almost unthinkable.
Then there came the player I referenced in the previous post. He’d come at the game from a Live Action perspective, and the ways in which I put together an end-times game made absolutely no sense to him. He’d come in with the idea of a lot of inter-tribal conflict, and when it was a weird conspiracy to herald the Apocalypse, he was pretty well lost.
The worst example, however, came with the locally based groups that focused on Legend of the Five Rings.
I like L5R. But since I’ve actually spent time in Japan, my outlook on the game is nothing like the local perception of things. The local people sink into the novels and the fanfics that arise out of the game, to the point that its lore has become integral to every aspect of the game. If a newly built character doesn’t conform to the carefully defined history that the rest of the people know backwards and forwards, it’s pretty well unacceptable. (“Obviously your ancestor wasn’t at the Battle of the Three Rivers, since my old character was in that game and the official fiction tells us that there were no other members of the Unicorn Clan that survived.”)
It gets a little weird.
At the same time, it’s what works for that group, and the way they play isn’t wrong. My group has spent a lot of time with games like Exalted, to the point that they know the particulars of that setting better than most. They would be unable to drop into a new game of that, since their ideas of the way that world works would set them at odds with most. It’s just how it happens.